I have posted about this earlier a bit, but the International Rugby Board is considering some major rule changes to streamline play a bit, possibly enacted by 2008. And I really like some of them.
Trialling laws mortals can understand
By Spiro Zavos
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
The most important rugby match played over the weekend was at Stellenbosch University between two “guinea pig” teams of students playing under new rules – the Stellenbosch Laws – devised under the auspices of the IRB by Rod Macqueen (coach of the 1999 World Cup Wallabies), Pierre Villepreux (France), Richie Dixon (Scotland) and Ian McIntosh (South Africa).
The experiment is being managed by Paddy O’Brien (NZ), a former Test referee and now the IRB’s referees manager. The brief for the group was to devise a simpler, shorter and more effective set of laws while retaining the essential features of rugby. The group also wants to quicken up the game and take the subjectiveness out of referees’ decision making.
Danie Craven, the most powerful rugby administrator from the 1950s through to the 1970s, once told me the laws of rugby were wrong because they were too complicated and too long. He used teams of students at Stellenbosch to test out his own theories. So it is appropriate that the Stellenbosch Laws should be trialled at his university.
The main Stellenbosch Laws are: 1. At the breakdown, players can use their hands at all times. They must come into the breakdown “through the gate”. No foul play is allowed. Otherwise, anything goes. The side that takes the ball into the breakdown and can’t release it is penalised.
2. Either side can use as many players as they like in the lineout, at any time, providing they fit inside the 15-metre line.
3. If the ball is passed or run back into the 22 and then kicked out, the lineout is taken from where the kick was made.
4. Long-arm penalties are to be given only for offside and foul play. All other penalties are short-arm penalties (free kicks).
5. The maul can be collapsed by defending sides.
6. Touch judges are to become “flag referees” with a primary responsibility, like a football touch judge, of policing the offside lines.
I had the chance last week of watching videos with Rod Macqueen of incidents from the trial matches at Stellenbosch. After the players became accustomed to the new laws – and, just as importantly, to the opportunities they open up – play became very lively. Continuity flourished. The players learnt to stop tucking the ball under their body (the Bob Dwyer ploy) when they were tackled. Instead, they started placing it well back from the tackle.
The most contentious issue is the use of hands in the ruck. The proposed law is simpler, taking about 30 laws out of the rule book. It allows referees to concentrate on the essential issues, offside and foul play.
Many gurus have called for this over the years. I saw a game at TG Milner field more than 20 years ago where laws devised by Scott Johnson, the new Wallabies backs coach, were played. Handling in the ruck was one of about a dozen new rules Johnson proposed. My memory is that the rucks were cleared more effectively than they are now.
After the Stellenbosch Laws have been trialled in a 20-match competition, a review will be presented to the IRB with the expectation that new, simplified laws will be put into play in 2008.
The ARU is thinking of using the Stellenbosch Laws in September’s inaugural Australian Provincial Championship tournament. It should. Virtually every innovation to make rugby open, athletic and clever has come from the southern hemisphere. The Stellenbosch Laws follow this proud tradition.
The ones that really make sense to me are not having to match numbers in the lineouts, being able to bring down a maul (I dislike mauling) and being able to use your hands in rucks more. Plus, the idea that referees might stop trying to be coaches and just keep an eye out for infringing, etc. Rugby gurus – let’s make this happen.